Elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) are the most spectacular in appearance and behavior of all the Channel Islands seals. Adult males may be up to 18 feet in length and weigh up to two and a half tons. The inflatable trunk-like nose, which is used for vocalization, is the most outstanding feature of the adult male. When the nose is inflated it acts as a resonating chamber, amplifying the roar of the male. Fighting on land between adult bulls leads to heavy scarring and cracking of the neck region. Female elephant seals are smaller, usually less than 12 feet in length, and both males and females are dark gray to gray brown in color. Elephant seals pup and breed in large colonies in December and January. Pups are born with a black coat which molts by the time they are seven weeks old. At birth, pups are about five feet long and usually weigh less than 100 pounds. Within the first month of life, a pup’s body weight will increase from three to seven times from its mother’s milk alone. This added body weight will nourish the pup during a several month fasting period which occurs after the mother weans the pup and returns to sea.
From 1818 to 1860, elephant seals were commercially hunted for their blubber as a source of oil. In 1868, T. F. Cronise wrote:
- “The California sea-elephant was formerly abundant at some seasons on the islands of our coast, but has been exterminated or driven away by the persecutions of sealers, so that few or none can be found north of San Diego.”
In 1879, “a sea lion [elephant seal?] was killed on San Miguel Island that was 14 feet long and was estimated to weigh between 3500 and 4000 pounds.” [Thompson & West p. 469]. As the animals disappeared, so too did the industry. By 1890, less than 100 elephant seals were known to exist. After the turn of the century, they were eagerly sought by museums and institutions for skeletal material. In 1911, an expedition led by the United States Bureau of Fisheries found a colony of about 125 elephant seals on Mexico's Guadalupe Island. By February, 1924 Dr. Charles H. Townsend predicted:
- “the casual reappearance of the elephant seal at other islands from Cedros northward to the Santa Barbara islands may be reasonably expected.”
Today, Townsend's prediction has been borne out, and elephant seals have made a remarkable recovery from near extinction. First seen primarily on San Miguel and Santa Barbara islands, they have now expanded to neighboring Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. Their Channel Islands population is estimated in excess of 80,000.
In 1923 the first elephant seal arrived at the San Diego Zoo. In 1955 the San Diego Zoo's new corporate seal used the Northern elephant seal to replace the California grizzly bear in use since 1917.
- Grinnell, George Bird. Hunting At High Altitudes N.Y.: Harper & Brothers (1913) https://archive.org/details/huntingathighalt00grin/page/406
- Gordon, P. R. Filming the Sea Elephant in The Wide World Magazine 43:258 (485-491), October 1919
- Anthony, A. W. Notes on the Present Status of the Northern Elephant Seal, Mirounga in Journal of Mammalogy 5(3):145-152, Aug., 1924
- Townsend, Charles H. The Northern Elephant Seal and the Guadalupe Fur Seal in Natural History XXIV:5 (619-621) September-October 1924
- Williams, Woodbridge Jumbo of the deep [San Miguel Island elephant seals] 48: 3 (144-49) October, 1941
In the News~
1830s. YOUNT MANUSCRIPT, BANCROFT LIBRARY: “Mrs. Watson [pp. 8-9] informs us that: ...from the island they visited [on Yount's first sea-otter trip] he returned after a few weeks with seventy-five skins that brought him the snug sum of two thousand dollars. After such success he visited other [channel] islands... [including] San Clemente... Mines of precious metal are supposed to exist here. On the island of Santa Barbara he took ten elephant seals and otter in great abundance. On the island of St. Clemente he built a boat of sea-elephant skins. It was constructed after the fashion of those used by trappers on the western rivers [perhaps the only instance of a 'bull-boat" being used to navigate the open sea]. The skins were cleaned of hair and fur, scraped down very thin upon the flesh side and while moist rolled into the smallest possible compass. When wanted for use they were soaked in water, while timbers from the flexible willow were being prepared. The hides are then skilfully stretched over the timbers and the boat is ready for use. In such hastily made crafts the largest rivers could be crossed. They would carry many tons [pounds] and five or six men in each boat. They were easily transported on the backs of men or animals, and when not needed they were carefully soaked and rolled as before... [In the ocean the sea elephant skin boats] were short lived, as salt water was fatal to them.”
September 24, 1842: “Morning calm and pleasant. The [Santa Barbara] island west about five miles distant. At 6 A.M. started from the ship with a large quarter boat and four men armed with a whale lance, Gun clubs and knives. On arriving at the island, found the landing place (a small beach) so thickly covered with Eliphant [sic] and seal that we had to wait sometime for the seal to clear out before we found room to haul the boat up. The seal are all of the hair kind and not valuable. Therefore we did not trouble any of them. The Eliphant were rather numerous but not very fat. I killed thirteen of them and with the blubber of twelve loaded the boat as deep as she could swim…” » Alta California 1840-1842. The Journal and Observations of William Dane Phelps, Master of the Ship Alert Glendale: The Arthur Clark Company, 1983. (p. 321)
1850: “In November 1850, U.S. Army Lt. George H. Derby passed Guadalupe Island on his expedition in the U.S. Transport Invincible. He described it thus:
- "This island is about 15 miles length and 5 in width. It is rocky + mountainous but capped with vegetation and is reputed to be thickly inhabited by wild goats of unusual size. Water is found upon the eastern shore and the Island is frequently visited by small vessels engaged in the capture of the sea elephant numbers of which animals are found upon its coast." [Wikipedia/Guadalupe Island]
August 30, 1852 [DAC]: “Arrived. Brig Mary Helen, [Captain] Scammon, from a whaling cruise, 350 bbls elephant oil; To Master.”
1852: “A fat bull, taken at Santa Barbara Island by the Mary Helen in 1852 was eighteen feet long and yielded two hundred and ten gallons of oil... The oil is superior to whale oil for lubricant purposes and, when used in the lamp, gives a clear, odourless [sic] and smokeless flame...Owing to the continual pursuit of these animals, they have become nearly if not quite extinct on the California coast, or the few remaining have fled to some unknown point for security.” [Scammon, Charles M. Marine Mammals of the Northwest Coast of North America (1874)]
July 30, 1852 [DAC]: “Schooner Huntress, [Captain] Payne, from Farallones. 35 bbls elephant [seal] oil, to master.”
February 1, 1853 [DAC]: “Arrived [San Francisco]. Whaling schooner Jupiter, [Captain] Gregory. 14 days from Santa Barbara Island; 100 barrels elephant [seal] oil to T. J. Thurston.”
June 7, 1855 [SBG]: “The whaling schooner Ann G. Doyle, Captain Phillips, arrived in our harbor on Tuesday afternoon, after a four months’ cruise among the islands of the southern coast. The Doyle has been unusually successful, having on board some six thousand gallons of sea elephant oil. Had it not been for the tempestuous weather experienced, a larger catch could have been made. The Laura Bevan, Captain Morton, which arrived here on the same day, will take the cargo of the Doyle to San Francisco.”
March 5, 1857 [SBG]: “March 3 schooner Victoria, [Captain] Peabody, from Anacapa Island, with 600 gallons elephant and seal oil.”
April 30, 1857 [SBG]: “April 27th arrived, schooner Victoria, [Captain] Peabody, from the adjacent islands, with 700 gallons seal and elephant [seal] oil.”
May 20, 1875 [DAC]: “Woodward's Gardens. An elephant seal is now on exhibit at these gardens. The performances next Saturday and Sunday will be very interesting.” [Note: Woodward's Gardens in San Francisco operated from 1866-1891. It was a combination of zoo, museum and amusement park in a beautiful garden setting. In 1873 they opened the first aquarium ever in America’s West.]
May 23, 1875 [DAC]: “The elephant seal, which is a rare species, continues to attract a crowd daily.”
June 7, 1875 [DAC]: “The attractions at Woodward's besides the tumblers, gymnasts and the orchestral concert, seem to be the water buffalo, the Chinese eels and fish, and the elephant seal. This last specimen of the animal creation does not look as if it were long for this life; in fact is pining and wasting away so, that this may be the last season of his appearance before the public.”
September 18, 1875 [Pacific Rural Press]: “Among the interesting and choice selections at the Mechanics' Fair, from Woodward's fine collection of stuffed animals, birds, etc., at his gardens, is the grand marine mammal — the sea elephant. This creature, which is sometimes called the elephant seal, and known to old Californians as the elefante marino, is found from Cape Lazaro to point Reyes, on our western coast, and nowhere else in the northern hemisphere...” [This appears to be the above animal stuffed after death.]
May 28, 1877 [SBDP]: “…Captain Mullett lately captured a sea elephant weighing 2500 pounds. The sea elephant is formed very similar to the land elephant, having a trunk and tusks, with huge fins in the place of legs. It is supposed to be the only animal of that species that has ever been captured alive. [These animals are probably seals, and not sea lions.]”
July 25, 1877 [SBDP]: “Sea Lions. This morning the schooner Reliance arrived at Stearn’s Wharf with nine sea lions and a female sea elephant. Some of the animals are much larger than those caught on the previous trip, and there are also several young ones. They will be shipped tonight on the steamer Los Angeles for San Francisco, en route for St. Louis and Philadelphia — their ultimate destination. Captain Mullett reports an exceedingly rough trip. He went to Santa Cruz Island, thence to Santa Rosa, and finally San Miguel, where the largest lions were taken. The weather on the other side of the islands was very stormy, and a gale blew the whole time they were out, nearly every sea breaking over the vessel. At night she dragged her anchors and drifted at the mercy of the waves. All the provisions on board were completely spoiled. The animals are badly scarred in places, owing to the roughness of the weather and the difficulty of handling; but they look healthy and well able to stand the trip across the continent. The cost of the trip altogether exceeds $1600.”
February 2, 1883 [SBDP]: “The schooner Laura now anchored about half a mile from the wharf has on board six young sea elephants, captured over at the islands. They are sometimes called proboscis seal, because the nose of the full grown male is prolonged about a foot in length, which, however does not serve the same purpose as an elephant’s trunk. They sometimes obtain an enormous size of thirty feet in length and eighteen feet in circumference at the thickest part of the body. Thirty years ago a very extensive business was carried on capturing these animals on the islands near the coast; but for many years they have been quite scarce. They are captured with a lasso but with extreme difficulty. About the only use made of them seems to be for exposition, for which they are shipped to all parts of the world, the market price being one dollar per pound. Some have been caught that weighed 2000 pounds, such a one being considered quite a bonanza.”
May 17, 1883 [NYT]: “Charles H. Reiche, the dealer in birds and animals, told a Times reported yesterday that some of his men had captured five sea elephants off the coast of California… The sea elephant has never been exhibited in captivity, and very little is known of its habits…”
May 20, 1883 [NYT]: “Five sea elephants arrived at Jersey City yesterday morning from San Francisco, over the Erie Railway… Each was in a crate by itself… The largest of the elephants is a male about 10 feet long. The smallest is 4 or 5 feet long. They are about 9 months old and were caught on the Pacific coast last fall, And have been on exhibition in San Francisco several weeks.”
May 24, 1883 [NYT]: “Henry Reiche has sold his five sea elephants which were lately brought to this city for $20,000 to the Zoological Garden at Philadelphia.”
May 25, 1883 [WP]: “There arrived at the Zoological Gardens here today five of the rarest animals to be found on the globe, and the only specimens of their species that have ever been known to be captured alive…”
March 22, 1885 [NYT]: “Mr. Van Dorous, a veteran whaler, called at the Chronicle office yesterday and exhibited the preserved head of an enormous sea elephant captured by him some weeks ago on the Lower California coast… Van Dorous was mate on the Laura for the past four months cruising in southern waters in the interest of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington… Mr. Townsend, a taxidermist connected with the Smithsonian Institution, was on the Laura, and he secured many valuable specimens of fish, flesh and fowl…”
June 3, 1892 [SBDI]: “Clark Streator, the naturalist, arrived in town last evening on the train and is registered at the Commercial Hotel. Mr. Streator has just returned from working up Guadalupe Island, Mexico. He found specimens of the sea elephant, a marine mammal about double the size of the seal, and supposed to be extinct. Mr. Streator will now spend some time in working up the birds of Santa Barbara Islands.”
November 20, 1893 [SBDI]: “The sloop Liberty returned Saturday from an unsuccessful seal hunt. Leopard seals were scarce, and tigers had taken winter quarters. The sea elephants had vacated their usual stomping ground, taking their baggage, including trunks, with them. Ordinarily everyday sea lions were plentiful, but the rarer varieties were unseen. In the meantime, the amphibia at the Midwinter Fair is hungry for some occupants. The backers of the scheme hope for better success next time.”
November 7, 1894 [LAT/SB]: “California sea elephant, the largest of the seal species, is almost extinct. The California sea elephant is an animal with a fearfully long Latin name, but a very short stay on this earth, writes W.W. T. Hornaday in the November number of St. Nicolas… In 1884 C. H. Townsend visited Santa Barbara Island for the express purpose of preserving for the National Museum, the skins and skeletons of what were supposed to be the last survivors of the species, then about to be killed by a seal-hunter for their oil. The result was that at the eleventh hour a number of very valuable skins and skeletons were saved for the zoological museums of the world…”
November 25, 1894 [LAT]: “San Diego… A. W. Anthony, a distinguished young naturalist of this city, had the good fortune not long ago to shoot at a number of sea elephants… Chartering a small schooner, the naturalist sailed for Guadalupe Island… Much to the regret of the naturalist, the sea was too rough to permit another landing. They were compelled to abandon six skins and skeletons left on the beach…”
July 23, 1896 [LAT]: “Sea elephants are probably the most valuable elephants now in existence, because they belong to a race which is almost entirely extinct. What few are left are found occasionally on the outlying islands of the Southern California and Lower California coast, where they are sought from time to time by representatives of museums, which want the elephants as specimens. Heartless hunters have killed many sea elephants merely for the pleasure of destroying life. Some of the bull elephants weight from 4000 to 6000 pounds.”
July 9, 1900 [LAT]: “Collection made by the United States Fish Commission. The United States Fish Commission has been making a collection of leathers made from the skins of fish and other aquatic animals, especially of those which promise to be of practical utility… Another kind of leather now seen on sale is that of the sea elephant. Up to within as few years, a species of sea elephant was found on the Pacific Coast, ranging as far north as Lower California, but the animals have been so nearly exterminated that they are now rarely seen.”
November 13, 1907 [SBMP]: “A good deal of interest has been aroused among seafaring men by the statement made in yesterday’s issue that the big species of seal Captain McGuire intends attempting to capture and keep alive on land is the sea elephant... Captain McGuire yesterday afternoon confirmed this view: ‘I would like exceedingly to get hold of one of these sea elephants described in the Morning Press. Its hide would fetch a mint of money, for they are so scarce now as to be almost unobtainable. There are still a very few occasionally reported off the island below San Diego, an island belonging to Mexico...”
May 11, 1909 [SBMP]: “For the purpose of securing a specimen of the almost extinct elephant seal either dead or alive for the Smithsonian Institute at Washington, an expedition has been cruising in the vicinity of Santa Cruz Island and other Channel Islands for the past week. The expedition left Santa Barbara nearly a week ago in Captain Gourley's gasoline boat and expects to return the latter part of the present week. Beside Captain Gourley, the party comprises of William Edward Lingard, a scientist of national reputation, and at present an attaché of the Smithsonian Institute; Miller, Auditor of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, and Owen H. O’Neil, a wealthy banana planter from Acapulco, Mexico and a well know naturalist and author. The party left in the powerboat Vamoose and were well provisioned for the trip. Side from camping outfit, they carried every manner of shotgun. Then too they were equipped with an elaborate net for the purpose of catching the elephant seal alive if possible. The net was made of extra heavy hemp rope closely woven, and treated with certain oil to toughen it. It is the kind that is used exclusively for the seal trade in the south sea. The party planned to organize a central camp on Santa Cruz Island and cruise about the other islands in search of the peculiar specimen. Several of the specimens have been seen in the vicinity of Gull Island.”
May 12, 1909 [SBMP]: “After a cruise of nearly a week exploring the islands of the channel group in quest of a sea elephant, a party of scientists returned last night to Santa Barbara in Captain Gourley's boat Vamoose. Though they were unsuccessful in their quest for a species of sea elephant, they gathered a large number of shells and biological specimens peculiar to the islands, and nowhere found on the mainland... They spent several days about Gull Island in the hope that a sea elephant might be sighted but to no avail… During low tide, members of the party secured some remarkable sea shells… Among the group were Edward Lingard, an attaché of the Smithsonian Institute; R. S. Miller, an official of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company; Owen H. O’Neil of Acapulco, Mexico, a banana planter and naturalist and Captain Gourley.”
November 11, 1910 [SBDNI]: “Ira Eaton, of the launch Sea Wolf, is said to have been stopped by a German cruiser, while going from Santa Cruz Island to San Pedro. He says the war boat bought from him 900 pounds of smelt at a good price. Eaton reported the affair at San Pedro, where Captain Charles Davis, formerly humane officer here, is now located. Davis has a sea elephant on exhibition at Venice.”
March 7, 1911 [LAT]: San Diego. Returning today from a six day cruise as far as the Guadalupe Island, the scientific expedition of the Smithsonian Institution brought on the Albatross six rare specimens of southern waters known as sea elephants. Dr. C. H. Townsend, in charge of the expedition, states that the specimens in New York are worth at least $20,000… Dr. Townsend states that it is his intention to ship the young sea elephants to New York…”
March 11, 1911 [LAT]: “Davie Jones' locker gives up long nosed seals, long supposed extinct, which are valued at $20,000 each. San Diego, March 10—Science is to be enriched almost beyond calculation by the efforts of a party of investigators aboard the steamship Albatross of the United States Fisheries Commission, which is cruising off the coast of Lower California in waters practically unexplored heretofore by seekers after strange specimens of marine life. The Albatross, after a cruise of eight days, brought to this port this week a valuable collection of biological and zoological specimens, some of them unclassified for the reason that they are new; others so rare that their existence had been in doubt. In charge of the expedition is Dr. C. H. Townsend, chief curator of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, a special commissioner of the New York aquarium. The crew of the Albatross numbers 71 persons. The commander is Captain G. H. Burrage, U.S.N. Perhaps the most interesting specimens of animal life taken by the expedition were six sea elephants, an almost extinct species of giant seals, estimated to be worth $120,000. These giant mammals, known to scientists as Macrorhinus angustirostris, were captured alive on Guadalupe Island, about 250 miles south of San Diego. The prolonged nose of the adult male into the erectile elastic proboscis and the enormous size of this species of seals are distinguishing marks. This is the first time that the sea elephant has been captured. As offers of $20,000 for a living sea elephant had failed to bring results, zoologists considered it probable that the species was extinct. The living sea elephants, properly crated and accompanied by an attendant, were shipped by express to the Museum of Natural History of New York. At stations along the route they will be fed live fish. After attending to the shipments of the specimens taken on their first trip, the research party sailed for another cruise along the south coast. On this trip, which will last about two months, it will give special attention to deep sea dredging in quest of specimens and to photographing plant and animal life at great depths by means of a new device, with which it is expected to obtain results never before achieved.”
March 14, 1911 [NYT]: “First sea elephants here. There arrived here yesterday at the Aquarium six young and lively sea elephants, the first of their kind to be exhibited in the big building on Battery. They came all the way from San Diego, California in crates, a six day journey, during which they had nothing to eat and nothing to drink. They stood the trip well, and when placed in the big tank in the Aquarium, raced around their new home, to the great delight of a large crowd of children and grown-ups… These sea elephants were captured by the expedition sent out by the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society, headed by Dr. Charles H. Townsend…”
March 15, 1911 [NYT]: “The attendants at the Aquarium yesterday were in a quandary as to how they should feed the six frisky sea elephants which arrived there by train from San Diego, California. They are said to be the first of their species ever placed on exhibition in the world, and are fast becoming extinct. The animals refuse to eat eels, seaweed, and several vegetable foods offered to them… So far the elephants have had nothing since they were taken from the water…”
March 25, 1911 [NYT]: “Sea elephants eating now. Raymond C. Osburn, Acting Director of the New York Aquarium, is much exercised over the stories that have appeared in print… For the last few days, however, they have been consuming a mixed diet of chopped cod, herring, eels, smelts, and pearl roach. Their appetites are steadily improving…”
April 19, 1911 [NYT]: “Sea elephants food. New York Aquarium officials find they like cod. Would not drink milk… With the six sea elephants the aquarium people began to experiment to find out what they’d like… They are all young ones, probably less than a year old…”
June 11, 1911 [WP]: “U.S.S. Albatross makes a voyage into Gulf of California. The United States steamer, Albatross, with a corps of scientific men on board, has just completed an unusually interesting expedition down the southern California peninsula, and back to San Francisco. The party, in addition to the chief, Dr. C. H. Townsend, acting director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, included Dr. J. N. Rose of the National Museum in Washington, botanist… Several elephant seals were killed at Guadalupe Island and put in brine, while six of the younger animals were captured alive…”
July 30, 1911 [LAT]: “Huge sea elephants in California gulf. One of the most fruitful and interesting scientific expeditions ever made in the Southwest was that recently to Lower California aboard the U.S.S. Albatross in the interest of the American Museum of Natural History, and which is described by Pingree I. Osburn, the Pasadena young man who led the way… By far the most important discovery was herds of huge sea elephants…”
July 30, 1911 [LAT]: “In a Wonderland. by Pingree I. Osburn. The U.S.S. Albatross sailed from San Diego on the night of February 28, last, with a party of seven from the American Museum of Natural History of New York, on a scientific expedition to the coasts of Lower California and the adjoining gulf. This expedition has proved to be the most successful and noteworthy made in this territory. The ship is a converted cruiser of 1074 tons displacement, 234 feet over all, and with a sail area of 7520 square feet, which is used only in unusual conditions. It contains very complete scientific apparatus and is well equipped for use such as that to which it was out on this cruise. Capt. Burrage of the United States Navy was in command, and Dr. Charles H. Townsend of the museum was at the head of the party, with the following staff of naturalists: Dr. J. M. Rose, Washington, botany authority; Dr. Paul Bartch, studying the invertebrates, and with many side lines; L. N. Tongue, resident fishery expert of the Albatross, J. C. Bell, who was making casts of the rare deep-sea fish; Howard Anthony mammals; W. Schmidt, assistant, and the writer, specializing in ornithology. Among the Sea Elephants. Our first stop was at Guadalupe Island, where a strangely-interesting and unique sight met our eyes. Few other human eyes have have seen the sea elephant (Macrorhinus angustirostris) which until now was supposed to be extinct. The first sea elephant seen was a gigantic bull, lying prone on the sand under lee of an open sea cliff. This was on the morning of March 2. As soon as he sighted us he rose and made for the water, but before he reached the edge was killed by one of the men in the boat, it being quite impossible to take him alive. This was the largest bull seen and measured over twenty feet long. When our party in the surf boat returned to the Albatross, we found that Dr. Townsend had brought in five live young of the sea elephants. These young did not show a well-developed elephant-like snout, as do the adults, and they resemble very much the California sea lion. Their call, which is a concert of cries, is hard to describe, and the nearest approach to it would be a combination of a fox bark and a rooster crow. They all showed fight and wallowed about the deck with hardly a quiet period until they were shipped to the New York Aquarium from San Diego, on March 6. At Guaymus word was received that they all arrived safely and were living on live fish. The largest colony of sea elephants was visited on March 4, when probably fifty of all ages and both sexes were reposing high on the beach, and wallowing in huge comfort in the sand. The work of skinning and skeletonizing the specimens shot was done in the lee of a cliff 2000 feet high with a concave face, and our labor was interfered with by loose flying boulders from the top of the cliff. I have not doubt these falling rocks are the cause of death of many of the elephants while they are lying on the sand. The animals are sluggish and inactive while on shore. The fighting bulls waddle face to face, open their mouths, throw their long snouts up in the air, and roll their heads till they touch their backs, all the time letting out a hollow roar, something much like that of a caged lion. At times they emit from their mouths a small cloud of white vapor and roll their large black eyes about. Their eyes are often as much as three inches or more in diameter. When pursued they waddle, crawl and flap down to the waters edge with a most awkward gait, but when the sea is reached their powerful bodies are instantly graceful and rapid in strong swimming strokes. Skins and skeletons as well as live specimens were collected and thus was completed an important addition to science—the re-discovery of the sea elephant...”
July 31, 1911 [WP]: “Sea elephants found. The expedition of the American Museum of Natural History, which returned from the Gulf of California on the U.S.S. Albatross, found on one of the islands in the gulf a large number of strange mammals called sea elephants… The largest herd of these water elephants comprised about 50 of all ages…”
October 2, 1911 [WP]: “The recent American Museum of Natural History expedition to Lower California aboard the U.S.S. Albatross was the most fruitful and interesting scientific trip ever made in the Southwest, and its discoveries are of inestimable value. The results were not disclosed until today, when Pingree I. Osburn, of Pasadena, the young naturalist who was selected as guide for the party and who nearly lost his life in that little-known region, recovered sufficiently to give an account of the expedition. By far the most important find was made in a large hidden cove on Guadalupe Island, where the scientists came upon three herds of sea elephants…”
April 5, 1912 [LAT]: “Sea elephants game sought. The power schooner Flyer, owned by C. B. Linton, arrived from Long Beach today on the first leg of a cruise which has for its purpose the capture of the only herd of sea elephants known to be in existence. There are ten sea elephants in the band. They have a value of about $5000 each and rendezvous on an island believed to be about 300 miles south of San Diego. The expedition was organized, so it was announced, for the purpose of exploring the coast of Lower California, the west coast of Mexico and the islands along the coast as far as Cedros Island. Provisions and fuel for a four months’ trip are aboard the Flyer. In addition, it is carrying a full equipment of arms, traps and other material necessary for the capture or killing of such specimens of animal and bird life as may be encountered. These will be turned over to Exposition Park Museum of Los Angeles, but the one great prize which the party seeks to get is the $50,000 herd of sea elephants. The existence of the sea elephants was discovered by a party of government scientists early last year. At that time two of the sea elephants were killed and five were brought to San Diego, carefully crated and shipped to the New York Zoo. They proved good travelers and recent reports from New York say that every one of the five is alive and healthy. The government scientists would not give out any information as to the island where the remaining ten sea elephants of the herd were left, but it is said on good authority that Captain Linton and his party have since secured this information and as a result the present expedition was commanded. George H. Child is in command of the Flyer. The other members of the party are George H. Willett, an ornithologist; H. N. Lowe, marine scientist; William McCluskey of the State Museum of Los Angeles; Ralph Johnson, Edward Bellringer, Paul McCreary and C. B. Linton.”
August 4, 1912 [LAT]: “A baby elephant seal weighing 900 pounds and valued at $5000 was seized by Customs Officers Woolman and Martin when it was brought here in the schooner Santa Barbara from Guadalupe Island, off Lower California, yesterday. The mammal is owned by John Ramsey of Los Angeles. Ramsey protested payment of duty and had given orders to leave the sea elephant in charge of the government when a compromise was effected. The mammal was captured after a hard battle with its mother on the shores of Guadalupe. It was fed condensed milk through a rubber nipple, says Ramsey, on the cruise from the South. More than a hundred gallons were required in three days. The elephant grew to like the diet until it finally kept the crew awake at night crying for more food. A fresh supply was secured here and the voyage to San Pedro started yesterday afternoon.”
August 26, 1914 [SDET]: “Yacht will go for live sea elephant. Motion picture film wants bug specimen; two pups desired also; vessel to be away ten days. After a sea-elephant which will be brought alive to San Diego, the ocean yacht Ramona, Captain Hammond, is arranging to clear for Guadalupe Island late this week or early next week. Captain Hammond says he is making the trip for the Equator Film Company of San Diego, and that he will be accompanied by a representative of the concern holding the Mexican development concession on the island. The process of hog-tying a sea elephant is said to be extremely interesting, but Captain Hammond has yet to see it done for the first time, and is not in a position to give the particulars. He says the first step in the process is to lasso the animal. After being securely lashed so that it cannot bite, kick or scratch, it will be made fast to strong planks which will keep it from being injured when hauled aboard the yacht. As good specimens of the sea elephant weigh about 2,000 pounds or more, the captain expects to use six men for hauling it aboard. Two pups, weighing probably only a quarter of a ton each, will be captured at the same time. It is probably that the yacht will be away for about ten days on its interesting mission. Captain Hammond returned a few days ago from a tun to San Clemente Island where six seals were taken alive. The seals were sold here at the dock and are now in vaudeville.”
January 12, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “The last sea elephant making its home in Santa Catalina Island waters… One day last year (1914) William Boschen of New York, a member of the Tuna Club, saw the sea monster near Santa Catalina Island and recognized it as a gigantic sea elephant…”
April 13, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Again the sea elephant. This time it was seen by Captain B. D. Halstead, who claims he threw a rope over its head, but the critter got away.”
April 20, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “While crossing the channel Tuesday the steamer Cabrillo killed a sea elephant thought to be one of the specimens that had escaped from captivity at Venice. Captain Smith of the Cabrillo stated that he was unable to avoid the huge monster owing to the rough sea that prevailed at the time. As the stem of the vessel struck the monster, the massive head turned, the huge saucer like eyes blinked and the stunned elephant rolled over and sank. C. H. Davis spent the greater portion of last week cruising in the channel in search of his pets. The total loss to him, six elephants, is estimated at $22,000.”
August 1, 1915 [LAT]: “…Charles E. Davis, naturalist and student of wild life… Today, according to Mr. Davis, the sea elephant has been driven south to the islands of Lower California, while their smaller brothers and sisters of the seal tribe, the kind one sees in circuses, are rapidly being thinned out through indiscriminate and often times wanton killing… Mr. Davis was the owner of the four sea elephants, the only ones in captivity, that escaped last January when their tank was washed off the Venice pier. They are now at Guadalupe, having been traced there by Mr. Davis through reports of fishermen. Unaccustomed, after a lengthy confinement, to the wide ranges of the ocean, the four sea elephants, Maud, Bill, Nellie and Bob hung around the wrecked tank for a day, then set off south, drawn probably by the little understood homing instinct possessed by all creatures of the wild. A week later they were at Catalina, three days later at San Clemente, where they rested for some days before setting out on the long trip to their home in the south. It is not known how long it took them to negotiate the distance from San Clemente to Guadalupe.”
July 7, 1922: “Scientists to VIsit Guadalupe Island. Arrangements have been completed, it was said yesterday, for the scientific expedition to Guadalupe islands, which will start Sunday. The purpose of the trip was announced recently in The Union. The scientists will make the trip in to the islands on the Mexican gunboat Tecate, which has been loaned by the Mexican government. The party will be under the direction of Carlos Chesta Terron, biologist of the department of fisheries of the Mexican government, and A. W. Anthony, director of the San Diego Museum of Natural History.”
July 20, 1923: The first elephant seal arrived at the San Diego Zoo.
February 24, 1927: “Mexican Gunboat Saves Last of Elephant Seals. San Diego, Calif., Feb. 23.—Special: Only extreme location on a lonely island 240 miles south and west of this port saves the only remaining herd of elephant deals in the world from complete extermination. Science insists that they be preserved, hence the Mexican government by law prohibits their being taken for any purpose. Occasionally the President of Mexico lets down the bars and permits some scientific organization to capture or kill one or two, but such an occasion is rare indeed. Recently L. M. Huey brought here for the San Diego Natural History Museum a specimen for study, and with it a description of the herd and its history. Near Guadalupe Island, where the herd is located, stands the Mexican gunboat Tecate with a company of marines armed to repel poachers and others who may attempt to "steal" a seal. The general history of these elephants of the sea remains a mystery, especially that part of their life lived in the water. Scientists have learned by observing their habits on the narrow beach something of their land habits, but the longer chapters of the story remain to be learned. Approximately 450 seals sun themselves on the beach, seeking protection from the sun on hot days by throwing cool sand on their backs and from cold winds by blowing out beds in the sand. Altogether they are an intelligent, though lazy, species. Huey's specimen measured 14 feet, 6-1/2 inches long and 10 feet around the stomach. It was gray in color, being fairly young while the older seals are of a yellowish-brown color. What these seals eat no one knowns, beyond the fact that they relish fresh fish. Only volcanic sand and small rocks have been found in their stomachs when analyzed. Their name is derived from the elephant-like snouts and their habits and characteristics make them a very interesting group. When they leave the waves and come to rest on the sand in shallow water, they hold out their flippers to get all possible assistance from the onrushing tide. By a slow, ambling motion they continue up on the beach beyond reach of the water. "In a great many cases," Huey relates of their habits, "they cross their hind flippers like hands and fingers, frequently scratching their hides. "Throwing of sand apparently is done to protect tender, new skin from the torrid rays of the sun. The freshly shed skin often has a bright, pinkish hue and gives the appearance of a newly sun-burned bathing girl." The island on which this peculiar herd is found is named for the patron saint of Mexico and towers magnificently above the Pacific. It lies about 100 miles off the coast of Lower California, far from the lanes of commercial travel. The seal beach rests at the base of a high cliff, impassible by man. From the ocean boats land with difficulty through the breakers, from which fact the difficulty of removing live seals is apparent. A crew of several men is necessary to handle even one. Nearly 6,000 pounds of bone and flesh make these animals a fairly easy prey for wanton hunters, but the conservation law promises to protect them for many years.”
1935: Expedition to bring two Northern Elephant Seals from Guadalupe Island, Mexico to the San Diego Zoo.
- “A Trip to Guadalupe. A long hoped for voyage of discovery was carried out during the last part of September by the Zoological Society of San Diego. Commander Bowdey of the 11th Naval District, who has contributed much valuable service to our work during the three years that he has been stationed in San Diego, succeeded in interesting Captain Allan Hancock of Los Angeles in the investigation that the society had been hoping to make at the Guadalupe Island. The main object of the trip was to attempt to locate the reported hiding place of the Guadalupe Fur Seal, (Arctocephalus townsendii), which had made its appearance again in 1927 after nearly forty years of oblivion.
- The yacht Velero II, belonging to Captain Hancock is admirably fitted for such a purpose, for Captain Hancock is himself a sportsman, and a naturalist as well as a seaman. He is well known in scientific circles as the man who made the Brea pits in Los Angeles possible and who has by protecting and setting aside this valuable scientific bonanza contributed greatly to historic knowledge of zoology. He was therefore interested personally in helping to establish facts in connection with this, the most interesting of sea mammals.
- The Zoological Society has long been convinced that if there were any considerable number of they had a hiding place which would well be nigh impossible to locate except through chance or by the assistance of someone who had previous knowledge of the location. Upon reaching the island repeated trips up and down the coast where the old seal herds used to roam were made and all possible sites of the hiding place carefully studies. After landing seveeral times and investigating carefully the possible chances for hidden caves, Commander Bowdey was confident that such a cave as we were seeking could be in the spot selected by the informer. It is perfectly concealed, as Doctor Townsend, who had searched the same coast, had predicted it would be, and is located near enough to their old haunts to be a very plausible location. Many pictures were taken by those aboard the ship and we feel that with this evidence and the careful marking of a chart of the island by the commander that the spot will easily be determined at any time.
- Neither the persons familiar with the habits of the seal nor those responsible for the expedition had any real hopes of seeing specimens of the seal at the island during the month of September. Although very little is actually known of the habits of the former numerous herds, records show that no skins were brought in later than September first or before the first of June, but there is no knowledge of the migratory habits of the animal further than the deductions to be made from these records.
- After locating the fur seal caves a cruise around the island for further study was made to investigate the condition of the Elephant Seal and to verify reports of white seals on one of the outer islands. Lying just south of the main island this series of smaller volcanic peaks present a forbidding appearance. Upon first approach they would seem to be entirely bare of plant or animal life, but closer views show that in every crevice of the cliffs in which soil could form or collect, some plant has taken root. Sea birds have made resting places and probably nesting places on some of the sheltered crevices or slopes, and on a steep sloping shelf running straight from the water's edge on the southwest cliff of the southern islet, a group of sea lions had established themselves. Among them were ten or more pure white seal, while scattered among the regularly colored sea lions were as many more light colored or spotted ones.
- These white seal were indeed an exciting vision, and to the mind of every member of the expedition came the story Rudyard Kipling wrote of the white seal of Pribiloff. To protect themselves from harm these animals had used their instinctive wisdom for nothing could approach very close to them except by sea; at the first warning most of them slid off into water hundreds of fathoms deep and rough enough to insure them comparative safety from everything except bullets. There is no possible landing place on the island so approach from that angle is no menace. While Captain Hancock went as close to the cliff as it was possible the light was too poor to make long distance pictures of any value, so although both still and motion pictures were taken, the results were entirely negative. This is one of the things which is calling us back to the island; the hope of getting at least distinct pictures of these beautiful creatures.
- There is no doubt of the writer that these are albino sea lion and not merely some of which have become bleached by the sun's rays. All of the seal on the cliff were not white, nor even light. Those that were white were in marked contrast to the others, even the buff colored ones which were scattered indiscriminately among them. When these light seal went into the water they looked almost brown so long as they were wet; not so the white ones. They were just as snowy in the water as when we saw them apparently perfectly dry upon the rocks. They have been reported there for several years always among the natural colored ones, and the ledge is not exposed to the sun's rays for very long periods because of the curve in the contour of the island which shelters its mornings and evenings. Neither would they be more exposed than on the ordinary rookeries. While there were no white seal pups in evidence, it is a logical conclusion that the white seal are albino sea lions which are to a certain extent breeding true. While it could not be stated as a positive fact, one of the seal lying close to the water's edge had every appearance of the fur seal which we were searching for; the thick round body and the sharp nose looked very like the two specimens formerly on exhibit in the garden. One maverick fur seal in a herd of sea lions would not be impossible.
- The elephant seal beach was reached in the early morning. If it had not been for Commander Bowdey this would have been passed by without recognition. That the beach was thickly populated with its giant inhabitants was evident from the yacht seen with the naked eye. Through the powerful glasses several partial counts were made and Commander Bowdey was convinced that no less than five hundred elephants were on the beach, with a much greater percentage of adult males than he had ever seen before. Doctor McLeish was not satisfied to view them from the distance, and taking a skiff with first mate Johnson rowed to the last line of breakers. He spent an hour or more in close observation and counted many of the larger groups. He also counted many in the breakers that could not be seen from the yacht. The Doctor said that five hundred was a most conservative estimate. This would indicate that the herd of immense pinnipeds is steadily increasing and the increase in adult bulls leads to the conclusion that at the time of the society's expedition a year ago the big fellows were away on a fall hunting trip or whatever mysterious business calls the sea mammals on their annual pilgrimage.
- The Zoological Society is greatly indebted to Captain Hancock not only for the generous use of his yacht but for the real interest he showed in the work and the personal effort he made to make every part of the trip a success. The real result of the work will not be entirely known until the society makes a trip in the late spring after fur seals and possibly white ones. Then the value of the information which we have gathered will be proven and perhaps some more added to the meager facts which have so long been all that has been actually known of one of the most valuable and rarest zoological specimens in the world, the Guadalupe Fur Seal. We certainly hope that the sequel to this expedition will make Captain Hancock feel repaid for the expense and trouble to which he has been out.
- Those making the trip beside Captain Hancock and Commander Bowdey were Doctor McLeish, Mr. Chapman, Mr. Mullen and Mrs. Fellows of Los Angeles, Señor Lobato of the Mexican Fish and Game Commission, and Mrs. Benchley of the Zoological Society.” [San Diego ZooNooz 5(5):5-7, 1930]
November 12, 1939 [Daily Press, Virginia]: “Mexico City, Nov. 11.—The National Forestry department has authorized the Zoological Society of San Diego, Calif., to try to capture two sea elephants, an almost extinct sea creature, in Mexican waters near Guadalupe Island.”
December 11, 1966 [The Press Democrat]: “Google the Great? He's a ton of fun. Imagine a 12-foot elephant seal with a nine-foot waistline waddling his 2,000 pounds across a stage to bask in the applause of an audience. Picture a naval three and one half inches wide, a long nose (from whence the sea mammal obtains its name) and a pair of twinkling reddish eyes, larger than king-sized ripe olives, overshadowed by a tiny straw hat. The upshot is that Google the Great, the tremendous comic who is rapidly becoming an outstanding attraction in the new arena of Sea World, San Diego's 40-acre park on Mission Bay. A veritable cub, insofar as elephant seals go, Google's girth and weight conceivably could double when he reaches maturity—approximately there years hence. In between his performances where he appreciates applause as much as any biped ham, he pursues his favorite pastime — consuming approximately 50 pounds of fish. Watching Google perform is a fantastic experience. The only trained elephant seal in the world, Google's repertoire of tricks include, of all things, blowing his huge nose on cue. The affect on audiences is overwhelming. Google is not taken for granted by Sea World's trainers. He receives, in addition to smelt, even larger dosages of care and affection. His attitude is tolerant but reserved. However he does brighten to applause.”
January 10, 1971 [The Press Democrat]: “Air shipment of live animals profitable. Washington—Introducing "Google the Great", a fat bewhiskered airline passenger with a faint aroma of fish about him. If Google isn't your idea of a seat mate for a transcontinental flight, meet his friend Shamu, who travels with a three-pound toothbrush—not at all surprising since he has up to 56 teeth. Google the Great is a sea lion [elephant seal] and his traveling companion, Shamu, is a two-ton killer whale. Both perform in an aquatic show.”